November 28th, 2012
07:06 PM ET

U.S. had plans to nuke the moon

By Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell

You could easily skip by it in an archive search: a project titled "A Study of Lunar Research Flights." Its nickname is even more low-brow: "Project A-119."

But the reality was much more explosive.

It was a top-secret plan, developed by the U.S. Air Force, to look at the possibility of detonating a nuclear device on the moon.

It was hatched in 1958 - a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a nuclear arms race that would last decades and drive the two superpowers to the verge of nuclear war. The Soviets had also just launched Sputnik 1, the world's first satellite. The U.S. was falling behind in the space race, and needed a big splash.

"People were worried very much by (first human in space Soviet cosmonaut Yuri) Gagarin and Sputnik and the very great accomplishments of the Soviet Union in those days, and in comparison, the United States was feared to be looking puny. So this was a concept to sort of reassure people that the United States could maintain a mutually-assured deterrence, and therefore avoid any huge conflagration on the Earth," said physicist Leonard Reiffel, who led the project.

Reiffel, now 85, spoke to CNN at his home in Chicago. A 1959 report Reiffel wrote on the project, declassified many years ago, was obtained online by CNN.

According to Reiffel's report, "The motivation for such a detonation is clearly threefold: scientific, military and political."

The military considerations were frightening. The report said a nuclear detonation on the moon could yield information "...concerning the capability of nuclear weapons for space warfare." Reiffel said that in military circles at the time, there was "discussion of the moon as military high ground."

That included talk of having nuclear launch sites on the moon, he said. The thinking, according to Reiffel, was that if the Soviets hit the United States with nuclear weapons first and wiped out the U.S. ability to strike back, the U.S. could launch warheads from the moon.

"These are horrendous concepts," Reiffel said, "and they are hopefully going to remain in the realm of science fiction for the rest of eternity."

The basic plan, Reiffel explained, was for an intercontinental ballistic missile to be launched from an undisclosed location, travel some 240,000 miles to the moon, and detonate on impact. Various news reports since 1958 have said project leaders considered using an atom bomb the same size as "Little Boy," the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, near the end of World War II.

Reiffel, who was cited for that information in those reports, now says he wasn't in on those discussions.

Contrary to some reports, Reiffel told CNN, the device would not have "blown up" the moon. "Absolutely not. It would have been microscopic, so to speak. It would have been, I think, essentially invisible from the Earth, even with a good telescope."

Reiffel had some brilliant minds on his team. One of them was an up-and-coming graduate student named Carl Sagan. Sagan went on to become one of the world's most renowned astronomers, creating the book and popular TV series "Cosmos."

But after working on the moon program, Reiffel said, Sagan violated security when he mentioned the still-classified project on a job application. "He did formally break the classification status of the project", Reiffel said of Sagan, who subsequently died in 1996.

Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, told CNN she's not sure if Sagan ever broke the classification, but if he did, she said, it wasn't intentional. "I can't imagine he would have done that knowingly," Druyan said.

By 1959, Project A-119 was drawing more concern than excitement.

"We didn't want to clutter up the natural radioactivities of the moon with additional bits of radioactivity from the Earth," Reiffel said. The project was abandoned.

Project planners also weren't sure of the reliability of the weapons, and feared the public backlash in the U.S. would be significant," Reiffel said.

"It disappeared in the files of the Pentagon", he said of the project. "They come up with what I believe was the right answer."

Contacted by CNN, the Air Force would not comment on Project A-119.

Filed under: Security Brief
soundoff (2,542 Responses)
  1. RV Beds Riverside

    May 14, 2021 at 2:40 am | Reply
  2. motorhomes for sale in orange county ca

    May 14, 2021 at 1:52 am | Reply
  3. 2006 Sprinter Transmion Repair

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this post plus the rest of the site is very good.

    May 14, 2021 at 1:43 am | Reply
  4. motorhome repair near me

    This is the right blog for anybody who hopes to understand this topic. You know a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic which has been discussed for many years. Great stuff, just wonderful!

    May 14, 2021 at 12:28 am | Reply
  5. truck collision repair near me

    I have to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this blog. I'm hoping to check out the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my very own site now 😉

    May 13, 2021 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  6. Sprinter Van Repair Los Angeles

    May 13, 2021 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  7. Van Wheelchair Lift Repair Near Me

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. There's no doubt that that you ought to publish more on this subject matter, it may not be a taboo subject but typically people don't discuss these topics. To the next! Best wishes!!

    May 13, 2021 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  8. rv supplies orange county

    A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I do think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo matter but typically folks don't speak about such topics. To the next! Kind regards!!


    May 13, 2021 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  9. rv media center

    May 13, 2021 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  10. gemigeSNum

    Недвижимость и автомобили купить на сайте можно действительно выгодно. Закрытие долгов, погашение кредитов и займов, а также иных обязательств происходит всегда на выгодных для клиента условиях. Обратить собственное внимание можно на кэшбек-сервис с возвратом от 15 до 25%, использование которого является выгодным для всех. Купить продукты питания, оплатить аптечные лекарства, купить билеты и увеличить капитал можно действительно просто.

    May 13, 2021 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  11. orange county truck shop

    May 13, 2021 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  12. RV Windows Los Angeles

    After I initially commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!

    May 13, 2021 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  13. poNaressen

    На сайте мотосервиса в Подольске заказать можно разные услуги. Замена расходных материалов и жидкостей, регулирование ходовой части и двигателя, замена масел и воздушных фильтров, а также другие действия выполняются всегда ответственно и точно. Синхронизация, а также чистка карбюраторов и инжекторов, замена свечей зажигания и регулировка клапанов выполняются оперативно. Состояние траков, подвесок и других деталей всегда проверяется. Мотоциклетная техника может ремонтироваться, в частности, и при условии выезда на дом.

    May 13, 2021 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  14. orange county ca rv parks

    May 13, 2021 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  15. Irinkates

    не работает
    casino nice supermarket

    May 13, 2021 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  16. Rebffiple

    cialis paypal cialis pay pal

    May 13, 2021 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  17. c and o body shop

    Very good article! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our site. Keep up the great writing.*16*

    May 13, 2021 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  18. rvtv youtube

    I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is an issue that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy that I found this during my search for something relating to this.

    May 13, 2021 at 4:37 pm | Reply
  19. rv furniture san diego

    Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the issues. It was definitely informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing!

    May 13, 2021 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  20. Anooreext

    si una mujer toma viagra que le pasa – viagra promotion viagra teaching

    May 13, 2021 at 4:18 pm | Reply

    Best view i have ever seen !

    May 13, 2021 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  22. RV Fiberglass Los Angeles

    You should be a part of a contest for one of the most useful sites on the web. I'm going to recommend this website!

    May 13, 2021 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  23. trailer body repair near me

    May 13, 2021 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  24. Noysisflate

    very nice blog


    May 13, 2021 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  25. rv media center


    May 13, 2021 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  26. box

    Heya i'm for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It really helpful & it helped me out much.
    I am hoping to present one thing again and help others such as you helped

    May 13, 2021 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  27. trailer parts and repair near me

    I need to to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it. I've got you saved as a favorite to check out new things you post…

    May 13, 2021 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  28. rv floor repair cost

    Excellent article. I absolutely appreciate this site. Keep it up!

    May 13, 2021 at 11:56 am | Reply
  29. rv storage orange ca

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who was doing a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch due to the fact that I discovered it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to talk about this issue here on your blog.

    May 13, 2021 at 8:54 am | Reply
  30. RV Lighting Near Me

    May 13, 2021 at 8:40 am | Reply
  31. furniture restoration orange county

    I want to to thank you for this excellent read!! I absolutely loved every little bit of it. I have you book marked to check out new things you post…

    May 13, 2021 at 8:09 am | Reply
  32. Lebnreext

    pharmacy in canada pharmacy wholesalers canada

    May 13, 2021 at 7:50 am | Reply
  33. MishkaLoG

    + за пост
    bk sportingbet videosu

    May 13, 2021 at 7:21 am | Reply
  34. stornobrzinol

    Fantastic web site. Lots of helpful information here. I¦m sending it to a few friends ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thank you for your effort!

    May 13, 2021 at 7:16 am | Reply
  35. certified rv repair

    Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the challenges. It was really informative. Your site is very useful. Many thanks for sharing!

    May 13, 2021 at 6:30 am | Reply
  36. RV Fiberglass California

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to return yet again since I bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide others.

    May 13, 2021 at 6:24 am | Reply
  37. RV Flooring Los Angeles

    May 13, 2021 at 5:48 am | Reply
  38. jnTZREZbyb

    alabama virtual library homework help pay someone to write my college essay resume writing service inland empire service public administratif et service public industriel et commercial dissertation

    May 13, 2021 at 5:17 am | Reply
  39. RV Steps Riverside

    May 13, 2021 at 4:21 am | Reply
  40. xvideos store

    I really like it whenever people get together and share thoughts. Great website, keep it up!


    May 13, 2021 at 3:46 am | Reply
  41. Ravdaratamits

    Мойки и смесители на сайте можно приобретать действительно выгодно. Удовлетворять все потребности по использованию сантехники может каждый покупатель. В каталоге можно также находить разные аксессуары, фильтры для воды. Продаваемая продукция считается оригинальной и обязательно реализуется при условии наличия всех нужных сертификатов. В магазине есть товары как от зарубежных, так и отечественных производителях. Подбирать решения можно, вне зависимости от имеющегося бюджета.

    May 13, 2021 at 2:03 am | Reply
  42. Sprinter Heater Valve Repair

    May 13, 2021 at 1:57 am | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Leave a Reply to B


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.